“BEFORE/AFTER”: An Architectural Documentation of Urban Changes in Hutongs

“BEFORE/AFTER”: An Architectural Documentation of Urban Changes in Hutongs

“BEFORE/AFTER” documents the drastic changes, both physical and psychological, which took place during the renovation of Beijing’s Fangjia Hutong in the months between April and September 2017. In 2019, OPEN Architecture was invited to participate in “Unknown City: China Contemporary Architecture and Image Exhibition”, the opening exhibition of the Pingshan Art Museum, with their work “BEFORE/AFTER”.

After the renovation, the diverse storefronts that used to record the joyful moments of life were removed and replaced with rows of uniform building façades. The Hutongs that used to hold numerous cafes, restaurants, bars, and featured shops suddenly lost its own identity. 

OPEN Architecture’s “BEFORE/AFTER” attempts to use image comparisons to encourage people’s reflection on a series of critical urban issues—of freedom and authority, progress and nostalgia, inclusivity and exclusivity, collectivity and individuality, and ultimately, the future of our cities. Through this study, OPEN Architecture hopes to encourage discussions around the definition of the ideal urban living and urban fabric.


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a Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
a Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
a After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
a After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Li Hu, the founding partner of OPEN Architecture, is also an architect who has worked in Fangjia Hutong for many years. After witnessing the radical changes that have given Fangjia Hutong a makeover, Li Hu argues that most renovation works done on Fangjia Hutong, focused on beautifying the existing facades, based on some assumptions about historic characters of Hutong.

Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Li Hu points out that, when it comes to heritage restoration and urban planning, we have always been paying too much attention to the “looks” instead of the “stories” the buildings tend to carry throughout time. Our cities are never just a beautifully decorated postcard, cities are living and full of our life stories.

b Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
b Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
b After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
b After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

For example, if you pass through the freshly renovated building skin along both sides of the Hutong, and enter from the back, where real stories happen, you will realize that old messy life dramas are still on show within the complex. The shiny tiling on the exterior face of the building does not have anything to do with what’s really happening in the back. In fact, everyday, the residents of Hutong have to walk all the way to the streets to access public washrooms, having to go through life with low dignity.

c Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
c Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
c After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
c After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

The question that remains is: are we just creating nice-looking buildings in the context, or are we really designing for people who have to live and use the structures everyday? Actually, design should be human-centered instead of policy-driven; because eventually, we should be designing a way of living, not a way of "looking".

d Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
d Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
d After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
d After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

03 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
03 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
03 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
03 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

11 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
11 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
11 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
11 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

09 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
09 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
09 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
09 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

07 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
07 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
07 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
07 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

14 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
14 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
14 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
14 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

16 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
16 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
16 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
16 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

05 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
05 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
05 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
05 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

01 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
01 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
01 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
01 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

06 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
06 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
06 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
06 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

Before versus After

02 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
02 Before. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
02 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
02 After. Image Courtesy of OPEN Architecture
About this author
Cite: Scarlett Miao. "“BEFORE/AFTER”: An Architectural Documentation of Urban Changes in Hutongs" 26 Aug 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/946062/before-after-an-architectural-documentation-of-urban-changes-in-hutongs> ISSN 0719-8884
Courtesy of OPEN Architecture

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